Gozo tunnel nightmares – Carmel Cacopardo

Minister Ian Borg informed us, earlier this week, that he seeks to turn into reality a Gozitan “long-held dream” by starting the process for a Malta-Gozo tunnel below the seabed. After debating the matter for years, it is clear that rather more than dreams, Ian Borg should prepare himself for a nightmare.

Geological studies have now been carried out and the results therof are being treated as some state secret. Three years ago, geologist Peter Gatt had drawn attention to the fact that the Enemalta tunnel between the Marsa power station and Delimara had a cost overrun of 100 per cent as a result of rock collapse along several points of the tunnel. This had occurred due to inadequate geological information fed into the design process. If the same were to happen during the Malta-Gozo tunnel works, a series of disasters, including possibly loss of life, would be inevitable.

It is a known fact that the Gozo channel is full of geological faults. It is pertinent to note that two of the tunnel options put forward by Transport Malta advisors Mott MacDonald pass through an active fault in the Gozo channel.

Taking borehole samples and examining them in a laboratory over a few weeks certainly increases our knowledge of the geology of the area but it is nowhere near the sufficient knowledge on the basis of which one can conclude the design parameters of the project. Suffice it to point out that notwithstanding the detailed geological studies spanning over many years and underpinning planning for the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent and Coquelles near Calais, the drilling of the tunnel had to be deviated at certain points because of unpredicted geological formations.

Serious studies take years to conclude: they cannot be rushed to meet a deadline set by a political agenda.

Feasibility studies have been carried out some time ago, long before the geological studies were even taken in hand. Three years ago, the Gozo Business Chamber in conjunction with Transport Malta commissioned a study entitled Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options. In the study, which was carried out by E-Cubed Consultants, it was argued that the average annual daily traffic (AADT) between the islands is projected to increase from 3000 to 9000 vehicle movements over a 15-year period.

This feasibility study makes assumptions which run counter to the National Transport Master Plan objective of reducing cars from our roads.

Basically, the proposed tunnel requires a critical mass of vehicular movements which would be subject to the payment of a toll and hence contribute to the recovery of the capital outlay, maintenance costs and profits. This runs counter to current Maltese Transport policy, which (at least on paper) aims to reduce the use of private cars from our roads.

This is an issue which would undoubtedly be examined by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the proposed Tunnel which study is currently in its initial stages after the Environment and Resources Authority recently approved the terms of reference of such a study. The EIA is an essential stage of the assessment of the project.

It was therefore irresponsible for the Minister of Transport, earlier this week, to announce that within six months an international call for tenders would be issued relative to the Malta-Gozo undersea Tunnel. Does this mean that the government considers the EIA irrelevant? This, in my opinion is the clear message being conveyed.

It is the worst form of bad governance as it undermines the efforts of the established authorities in carrying out their responsibilities. With this in mind, I have written to the Ombudsman and asked him to investigate this breach of good governance. Government should have the patience of awaiting the outcome of the EIA before taking any further decisions.

Carmel Cacopardo
Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16 December 2018